Review: 2nd Gen Mini-ITX - VIA EPIA-M9000

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November 25, 2002 -- by Mike Chin

Product VIA EPIA-M9000 Mini-ITX Mainboard
Manufacturer VIA Technologies Inc
Supplier VIA Mainboard
MSRP Anticipated: US$160~190

VIA was kind enough to finally send over a final pre-production sample of the EPIA-M9000 Mini-ITX board. Many people have been eagerly awaiting this new M series boards for a while. This is a second-generation, multimedia-focused version of the tiny platform VIA introduced about a year ago and put into production earlier this year. Many readers are aware of our own review of the EPIA-5000, conducted in late May 2002.

The new EPIA-M9000: Taking Aim at a Different Market Segment

The EPIA-M series, driven by the new VIA CLE266 chipset, is designed to tackle a different market segment than the EPIA, which will continue to be produced and sold. The improvements in this second generation Mini-ITX board allows VIA to position the EPIA-M series for use in a home entertainment PC. This is considered as a potential growth market by many major players in the PC industry, as we reported from the Fall IDF. VIA's approach to this market is different from most other manufacturers.

Microsoft / Intel solutions are best represented by the new HP Media Center PC, running P4-2.4 or faster CPU in a fairly conventional mid-tower case, and using Microsoft WindowsXP Media Center Edition. The primary power for multimedia functions comes from the CPU and the video card. This is a high-overhead approach that adds additional features into a standard PC and not at a low cost: HP's offerings start at US$1399 without monitor or speakers. Neither size nor price are great incentives to move one into the living or entertainment room.

VIA's approach is to go small: the EPIA-M has enough power to handle DVD movies and sound well, and the platform is small and cool-running enough to be easily adapted to cases that will mix-'n-match with existing home entertainment equipment. The CPU generates little heat; the primary power for multimedia functions is embedded in the chipset, and relatively independent of processing power. It can be made to run quietly and would be inexpensive. Think US$500~700.

VIA's Home Entertainment PC is meant to be small, stylish and quiet: Skyhawk IPX8201 case shown.

As already mentioned, VIA's new CLE266 chipset is the key to the performance of the EPIA-M. The board has the same marvelously tiny layout as before (17 x 17 cm), but with USB2.0, IEEE 1394 Firewire, smooth DVD playback, better TV out, LAN, support for faster DDR266 memory (instead of PC133 SDRAM) and better quality 6 channel surround sound. It also has better graphics (than the Trident Blade on the PLE133 of the EPIA series boards) with a new integrated graphics engine called Castle Rock. Another change quietly introduced is the addition of a port for a floppy drive, which is missing from the EPIA boards.

With the small form factor of Mini-ITX, there is no room on the back panel for the IEEE 1394 Firewire ports. So VIA includes headers on the board and a Combo Module with 2 USB 2.0 ports and 2 IEEE1394 ports. The combo module requires the use of a PCI riser card in most Mini-ITX cases. With the two USB ports already on the back panel, this makes 4, which is generous for such a tiny board. In fact, the list of I/O connections (as shown in the specifications below) makes it clear that this is one very modern board.

The EPIA-M9000 board is the faster of two models currently in the EPIA-M series, with the CPU running at 933 MHz. The power dissipation of this device and the small space available for a heatsink requires the use of a small cooling fan, as in the EPIA 800. The slower EPIA-M6000 does not use a fan, like the EPIA 5000. Despite the HSF, the tallest items on the board are the in/out connectors on the back panel, as shown by the photo below. (See Mini-ITX.com's preview of the EPIA-M for a gallery of photos.)

Detailed specifications on the new board, straight from VIA's web site:

VIA EPIA-M Mainboard Specification
Processor

- VIA C3/EDEN EBGA Processor

Chipset

- VIA CLE266 North Bridge
- VT8235 South Bridge

System Memory

- 1 DDR266 DIMM socket
- Up to 1GB memory size

VGA

- Integrated VIA CastleRock AGP graphics with MPEG-2 decoder

Expansion Slots

- 1 PCI

Onboard IDE

- 2 X UltraDMA 133/100/66 Connector

Onboard Floppy

- 1 x FDD Connector

Onboard LAN

- VIA VT6103 10/100 Base-T Ethernet PHY

Onboard Audio

- VIA VT1616 6 channel AC'97 Codec

Onboard TV Out

- VIA VT1622 TV out

Onboard 1394

- VIA VT6307S IEEE 1394 Firewire

Onboard I/O

- 1 USB connectors for 2 additional USB 2.0 ports
- 2 1394 connectors for 2 1394 ports
- Front-panel audio connectors (Mic and Line Out)
- CD Audio-in connector
- SIR connector
- CIR connector
- Wake-on-LAN, Wake-on-Ring
- CPU/Sys FAN/Fan 3
- System intrusion connector
- 1 I2C connector
- 1 LVDS connector (Optional)
- Serial port connector for second com port

Back Panel I/O

- 1 PS2 mouse port
- 1 PS2 keyboard port
- 1 Parallel
- 1 RJ-45 LAN port
- 1 Serial port
- 2 USB 2.0 ports
- 1 VGA port
- 1 RCA port (SPDIF or TV out)
- 1 S-Video port
- 3 Audio jacks: line-out, line-in and mic-in; can be switched to 6 channel output

Application

- VIA FliteDeck¬ô Luxurious Utility
- MissionControl-H/W Monitoring, Remote SNMP management
- FlashPort-Live BIOS Flash
- SysProbe-Live DMI Browser

BIOS

- Award BIOS
- 2/4Mbit flash memory

System Monitoring & Management

- CPU temperature monitoring
- CPU voltage monitoring
- Wake-on-LAN, Keyboard-Power-on, Timer-Power-on- System power management
- AC power failure recovery

Form Factor

- Mini-ITX (4 layer)
- 17 cm x 17 cm



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